Disclaimer: Not mine
A/N: Many thanks to Corisu for beta reading!
"My word, Mr. Potter, you have gotten yourself into quite a dire situation."
"Um...I have, sir?" Harry looked around nervously, as if something big and scaly were going to bite him. All he saw were tapestries and armor as they descended from Gryffindor Tower.
"Yes," Dumbledore said in his curious mix of softly humored wisdom. He watched as young Harry Potter struggled to keep his trunk and birdcage in tow without dropping them. "When you managed to miss the Hogwarts Express--"
Manage? He hadn't been trying to purposefully miss the train; it had all just sort of happened. He's been talking with Hagrid in his hut, who had wanted to show Harry a new Hippogriff the school had just acquired. The young Gryffindor had spent just enough time there to see the Hogwarts Express leaving the station, whistling cheerfully.
"--you incurred the wrath of our dear Potions Professor."
Harry's eyes widened perceptibly. Well, twelve-year-old Harry thought, Snape was certainly big, but scaly was debatable.
"You see," Dumbledore continued, taking the flight of stairs leading down to the dungeons, seemingly oblivious to Harry's concern, "the staff here take turns watching over students whom the Hogwarts Express has had the misfortune of leaving behind until they can be picked up."
"Sir, can't I just stay with you?"
Dumbledore chuckled, "I'm afraid not, Harry. A headmaster's work is never done."
Harry, struggling under his belaboring handful, had to state the obvious, "But Professor, he's going to kill me."
"Nonsense, Harry. Ah! Here we are." Dumbledore knocked sharply on the rich, iron-hinged wood. The clatter of instruments being set aside quickly followed, and in a moment, a greasy head of hair had poked itself out through the door frame. The moment he saw Dumbledore, his expression immediately soured.
"Which brat managed to be left behind?"
'Again with the managing,' Harry fumed silently.
"Harry?" Dumbledore beckoned the boy forward.
When he caught sight of the young Potter, Snape's disposition, if possible, seemed to sour even more. It looked as if someone had forced him to eat a tree's worth of lemons.
"Absolutely lovely. How soon will his relations be here to acquire him?"
"They won't," Dumbledore replied, cleaning his glasses while Snape coughed to hide a surprised choking. His throat had apparently closed up in revulsion at the thought of an indefinite stay with Harry. "I will be taking Mr. Potter home myself after I finish up my business here. In the mean time, I need you to keep an eye on him."
"I see," Snape said skeptically, as if he expected Dumbledore to immediately rush off to the French Riviera, and leave him the unhappy task of babysitting the wizarding world's youngest hero all summer.
"I will see you both at dinner," Dumbledore said jovially.
After he had left, Snape made no move to let Harry into the dungeon room, but seemed to prefer glaring at him instead.
"Drop your things. Go to the third dungeon, collect all the books you find there, and bring them to this room."
Harry looked extremely puzzled.
"Well? Don't stand there like a petrified elf. Move!"
At dinner, Harry sat as far away from Snape as possible. This really only meant that he was on Dumbledore's right side, and Snape was on the Headmaster's left, but the distance of a Dumbledore was, nevertheless, far enough for Harry at the moment.
He absolutely hated Snape! Harry's entire afternoon had been comprised of moving one set of books to a new classroom, the books in there into yet another, and another, and another, until he found he had shuffled all the books back into their original rooms.
Snape, on the other hand, was busy plotting all the ways he could possibly torment the boy without actually getting himself into trouble. He reasoned that he still had a full day before the Headmaster would be finished with his affairs.
"Albus?" McGonagall poked her head into the Great Hall. "Will there be any more paperwork this term?"
"No, my dear Minerva. I have it all handled, thank you. Enjoy your summer!"
"Goodbye, Albus, Severus, Mr. Potter," she nodded to each in turn before departing.
The silence that followed was most uncomfortable and distinctly uneasy as Harry realized that they were the only three left in the whole castle. The young Gryffindor tried to concentrate on his rather bland soup. He wrinkled his nose and wondered why on earth the food was suddenly so abysmal.
'Perhaps,' Harry thought, 'Snape has put something in it to make me all the more miserable.' Sourly, he poked the bottom of the bowl with his spoon.
Snape was temporarily interrupted from his musing when he noticed two green eyes trying to surreptitiously inspect Dumbledore's bowl. He had to give the boy credit for figuring him out -- or would have if he were a decent person, which Snape was glad to lack among his credentials at the moment.
If it had been the Potions Master eating the vile, watered down, tomato paste, he would have suspected that the House Elves had been replaced by trolls -- or Sirius Black, but they were practically one in the same in Snape's mind.
It was then that Dumbledore clapped his hands together.
While Harry innocently waited for Dumbledore to speak his mind, Snape hastily got up. He recognized Dumbledore's action for what it was; the old man had contrived some way of making him miserable.
"Severus, where are you going?"
Snape paused mid stride, "I...forgot to make Pomfrey some medicinal potions for next term."
Dumbledore smiled, "You have all summer, Severus. Surely an evening off won't be the end of you?"
Snape privately thought it very well might.
"Now," Dumbledore murmured thoughtfully, "My brother's best friend's son once told me of a marvelous Muggle invention called a string walkie-talkie. I've never seen one in action, myself, but I think one rather ought to in their lifetime. As we are all, no doubt, in no mood for work after just finishing the term, what better way to pass the evening?"
Snape raised his index finger and opened his mouth as if to protest that he was in the mood to work, especially if this were to be the alternative. However, before he could, Dumbledore had summoned the contraption. One rusty, baked bean tin fell into Harry's hands, and the other landed in Snape's reluctant clutches.
"Headmaster, you and Potter could very well do this by yourself, you don't need--"
As if a cue to make an excuse, Dumbledore cut Snape off. "Dear me, I've just remembered that I promised to have some tea with Hagrid."
"Hagrid left for Diagon Alley to pick up specialty items for those Hippogriffs of which he is so fond," Snape said icily. "I know because I asked him to pick up more lacewing flies for the student stores."
"Yes, we will have to find a nice tea room. Do you have any suggestions, Severus?"
The dour expression seemed stained on Snape's face, "You're going to London for tea? Why not the French Riviera?"
"I'm afraid that would be too inconvenient," Dumbledore replied, smiling with mirth. "Expect me back late this evening."
"Headmaster, I really do obj--"
Snape's protest went unheard as Dumbledore continued. "Well, carry on without me."
And just like that, Harry found himself without a Dumbledore shield between himself and Snape. The boy couldn't help feeling betrayed by the Headmaster. Did the Dumbledore honestly think that there could be such a thing as quality time between a teacher and student who loathed each other?
The Potions Master sneered, "Here, Potter, I'm sure you can keep yourself amused with this." He dropped the can and turned to leave. Unfortunately for Snape, he only got out into the entryway before he felt something tapping him. Sure that it was Harry, he turned savagely, only to find a can insistently bumping at his thigh.
Harry was surprised how long a length of string Dumbledore had conjured, but was even more surprised to hear the string of oaths coming from outside the door.
He remembered when Dudley had forced Vernon to make him a similar walkie-talkie. The string had been much shorter, and had had to be taut for anything to travel across it. Currently, the long string connecting himself to Snape was anything but that.
He sighed and looked at the tin in his hand. Then, against his better instincts but knowing nothing would happen, he put it up to his mouth. "Even Dudley wasn't as bad as you. Nothing's ever fun for you, is it? You're a sour, evil bat, with greasy hair, but mostly, you're a really foul teacher."
Harry stopped, bored and ready to set his tin down, when he was startled to hear a deceptively calm voice coming through from the other end.
"You are an insolent, pompous brat, Potter. You might learn a thing or two in my classes if you actually bothered to listen, rather than preening."
Harry gasped; Snape had heard him! But how? The Gryffindor reached down and pinched the string, feeling a buzz of magic radiating through it and the bottom of the tin. Fear overcame him. Now Snape really would kill him! Anger bubbled up within him, directed at the device, so much so that he ripped the string from the can.
But what was he to do now?
Without a moment's more hesitation, Harry ran. Snape was still in the hall, but seeing Harry barrelling out of the Great Hall toward him took Snape by surprise, which allowed Harry to scramble up the stairs looking for a place to hide. Normally he wouldn't have run, having already been caught, but under normal circumstances he also wouldn't have been assigned a whole day's worth of useless chores!
Safety came in the form of a cabinet under a sink in a Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. It was cramped for a twelve-year-old, certainly more so than Harry's cupboard at home had ever been, but it would have to do. The Gryffindor shivered, and placed his hand over his mouth to quell the sound of his lungs gasping for air, praying Snape wouldn't find him.
Why hadn't he bothered to think that it might have been magically altered? Why couldn't Dumbledore have made the string normal, saving Harry the agony of being alone with a royally pissed off Snape? Why couldn't Dumbledore have just sent the old bat away? A lump of dread formed in Harry's stomach as he thought of being given double the amount of useless work. Or worse, he might get detention for his whole third year!
Harry shut his eyes as his breathing began to return to normal, taking his hand away from his mouth, when he noticed two things. First, he was still clutching the stupid tin. Second, he felt a very sudden, very sharp sting on his rear end. It hurt! The resulting gasp was far from hushed.
"Potter? What was that?"
Harry stilled, alarmed, thinking Snape was in the same room. It was with much disgust that he realized Snape's voice had, in fact, been transmitted through Dumbledore's walkie-talkie. Harry cursed his abysmal luck.
When Harry's silence proved too much for the Potions Master, he received another curt message, "Potter, just what havoc are you wreaking on this castle?"
"I'm not doing anything!"
"Oh, hiding, then? You've decided to add cowardliness to lying, idiocy, and rebellion, I see."
Harry bit his tongue, trying his best not to shout back at Snape. He was in a deep enough quagmire as it was. However, when he felt yet another prick, he couldn't hold back the obligatory "Ouch!"
"Potter, do try not to hurt yourself, as hard as that may be for one so bumbling as yourself."
While he might have normally glared at the disembodied voice, Harry felt a rather pleasant sensation creeping through him, to the point where he actually grinned and said, "Oh shut up, you great bat."
There was a long, shocked silence over the tins.
"Potter, have you managed to hit your head?"
"Why does everyone always think I 'managed' things?" Harry wondered aloud, quite oblivious that this was Snape he was asking.
He felt another sting, but this one only felt like a pinch. The feeling spreading through the twelve-year-old deepened, and it suddenly seemed to Harry that ranting at his Professor was a good idea.
"It's not like I purposefully missed the train to get stuck here with a slimy, dungeon rat. I think I would've run a little faster if I'd had known what would happen." Somewhere, he was dimly aware that this rambling was most unlike himself, but couldn't bring himself to care. "Everyone makes it sound like such a great accomplishment that I succeeded in missing a train that the rest of my class couldn't." And then on a completely unrelated matter, he added, "What happens if you live north of Hogwarts, anyway? Do you have to ride the train down to King's Cross and then drive back up?"
"Potter . . . I daresay your father, inept as he was, dropped you on your head when you were an infant. But then, I suppose it was only a matter of time before you lost your mind, small an insignificant as it was."
"Ow!" Another sting. "At least I'm not a sneaky--no, snarky--no, no, sneaky-snarky git."
"Insolence does not become fools such as yourself, Potter. Now where are you hiding?"
"Wouldn't you like to know!" Harry crowed, feeling yet another prickle of pain. This one did not seem to hurt nearly as much as the others. Curiously, feelings of happiness -- verging on giddiness--bubbled up within Harry, and a warmth flowed through him as if he had had a mug of butterbeer on a cold day.
"Potter," the tone of the voice on the other end of the line seemed to change from that of annoyance, to vaguely worried. "Have you, perchance, found Filch's cache and become inebriated?"
"Potter, so help me, if you don't tell me where you are this moment, you will have detention every night as a third year."
"Yes, really." The exasperation was creeping back within the voice.
"Potter, I have the most urgent desire to wring your neck."
Harry fumbled with the door of the cabinet, "Okay, I'll go find you. But only if you don't hurt my neck. Neck. Neck sounds like feck. Seamus says 'feck off' a lot . . ."
"Potter," Snape warned.
Still giggling, Harry had a feeling he would have been mortified if he hadn't been in such a pleasant mood. "It'll be much easier to find you. You're a big git. Git, git, git." As he crawled unceremoniously out of the cupboard, Harry was surprised to find dozens of little blue insects swarming over his black robes. They looked like a polka dot pattern! Once outside the cabinet, Harry was even more shocked--much to his seemingly endless delight--to find himself floating steadily upwards.
His gasp of surprise elicited another stringent demand for his location by the harried Potions Master.
"The Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom! You have to try this!" Even as he yelled this into the tin, Harry floated up, and up, and up. The ceiling of the room was quite lofty, and he wanted to touch it. Much to Harry's disappointment, however, he was only carried two-thirds of the way up.
"Higher!" he shouted, as if some invisible force would propel him. He noticed the little insects were still stinging him, but he could no longer feel it.
Harry looked around for the angry voice, only to realize that it was coming from what looked like a very small person below.
"Professor Git!" Wait--he didn't remember having any Professors by that name . . .
The mouth grew very thin, and Harry, had he been in a normal state of mind, would have been very, very concerned for his longevity, or lack thereof.
"Hi!" the boy yelled into the tin, not quite grasping that doing so was no long necessary.
There was no response. Then Harry noticed that the man was waving his wand rather angrily, and that the subsequent change in altitude the boy found himself taking was none too gentle.
A bit more sober, Harry watched with alarm as Snape bent over his prone body and picked off the blue insects.
"The mighty Potter subdued by Billywigs. I never would have imagined."
"Billy-what?" Harry screwed up his face.
"Billywigs. You are suffering from an overdose of their stings," Snape said, crushing each of the small bugs as he removed them.
"Don't kill them . . ." Harry said, his elation temporarily curbed, but his state of mind still no sounder. "They were living under the sink. It's my fault."
Snape gave the boy an odd, calculating look, examining his eyes. A cruel smirk formed in his voice, "They are pests, and will need to be exterminated--or perhaps I will gather them for potions."
"No! Leave them alone!" Harry seemed to understand that he had landed (quite literally) in a lot of trouble, but he couldn't seem to keep his tongue still. This, coupled with the fact that it had not been so long ago that Harry had been made to live in a cupboard caused his thoughts to bubble up on their own accord. "It's bad enough to make them live there. Don't hurt them!"
Harry's non sequitur about making insects live under a sink puzzled the Potions Master. But while he was tempted to probe the boy's mind with Occlumency, he refrained, knowing the consequences outweighed the benefit.
Nevertheless, Snape's stare was unbearably penetrating. When he finally spoke again, it was detached. Though Snape liked to consider himself a heartless man, he felt more perturbed than amused at Harry's reactions. "You may have suffered blood poisoning; how many times were you stung?" he said, hoisting the boy's small frame up into his arms. From the look on his face, it appeared as though it physically hurt Snape to be so close to the boy, as if Snape was a vampire and Harry was a massive clove of garlic. Much to Snape's chagrin, there was no other option as more levitating magic, even levitating objects carrying the boy, could have unpredictable results.
"Oh. I--I don't know." Harry's glazed eyes suddenly filled with panic, "Professor, am I going to die?"
"Yes," Snape replied, somber as always. With his black robes, he looked as though he were at the funeral already -- not that he would ever be caught at Harry's funeral.
"But, Professor, I don't want to! I can't!" The fog over Harry's mind refused to lift, even in his worry.
"Oh, do shut up, Potter. I wasn't referring to the Billywigs. I was talking about your impending detentions."
"But--but I told you where I was. That's not fair . . ." Harry was still too far gone to realize that Snape, being Snape, wasn't one to care.
"Oh, it isn't about that, either, Potter. It's about some of your uncalled-for comments."
"Oh," Harry said, slumping.
Snape gave a small harrumph, and continued on toward the medical wing where he knew several useful potions would be waiting.
As testament to the Billywigs' stings, Harry's mood took a turn upward after learning he would, in fact, live to see his thirteenth birthday.
"Professor, can I do that again?"
Snape's mouth thinned, and he began to wish he had tossed the boy over his shoulder so that the Gryffindor's stupid questions would be easier to ignore.
"Absolutely not, Potter."
Several months later, Remus Lupin was rather surprised to find a discarded bean tin on the floor of his classroom. Upon further inspection, it amused Lupin to no end that he seemed to be able to hear Snape chastising students in his office through it.